Twenty-three miles east of us, by the corner of Dexter and West Chicago, in Detroit’s near north side, several black Wayne County sheriff deputies were facing something much more ominous than freezing weather. They were experiencing a cop’s worst nightmare.
It was a hot summer afternoon in 1971, and I was a 22-year-old undercover narcotics officer in the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, with a year and a half on the job. I was also a former US Army Ranger with a year in Vietnam. We were in Detroit’s east side, getting ready to make a raid.
I was a cop for fifteen years, but I took my first ride in a scout car long before that, on a beautiful spring day in 1959. I was 10 years old, in fifth grade at Bennett Elementary School in southwest Detroit. Leaning against the tall chain-link fence that enclosed the playground, my two friends Randy McCoy and Jimmy Smith and I were singing Wilbert Harrison’s new hit song “Kansas City”:
“Well, I might take a train, I might take a plane,
but if I have to walk, I’m going just the same.
I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come . . .”
It was my sixth year with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department in Detroit, and I was assigned to uniformed motorized patrol at the Patrol and Investigation Division in western Wayne County. Six years on the force meant I no longer had to work nights, afternoons, or the shift that was toughest on the social life: seven at night to three in the morning. The best part of days was that if I had to go to court, I could do it while I was working—no more having to lose sleep. And I could go to college in the evening without any scheduling hassles.